Written in 2017 for a Indian new site and was not accepted
This week I joined the 369,000 Uber users from the US who use Uber in India annually (Source:NDTV). In 2010 I was in a conversation with Travis Kalanick then CEO of Uber at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in DC where I had mentioned being impressed by the GPRS tech-enabled radio taxis in Hyderabad. He was curious about how taxis were used in India and little did I know that Uber would launch in India 4 years later.
What did Uber disrupt for visiting NRIs? Usual ways to travel on visits to India
Request to be picked up at the airport by relatives
Hitched a ride with relatives while going from place to place
Hire cars for trips out of town from independent operators
These methods had their own issues. Flights arrived at an ungodly hour and that meant whoever received you at the airport had to be sleepless as well. Autos were dusty and you never knew what was the right fare. Hired cars had the baggage of driver bata, meals etc.No matter what you paid you always felt cheated when paying cash for anything.
This trip to India was a technology triumph. My Google Pixel with Google’s Project Fi network welcomed me to India. This meant that I no longer had to look for the nearest mobile vendor and fill up paperwork to get a SIM from an Indian telco. I summoned an Uber to take me home and did not have to withdraw cash at an ATM. I can use my ICICI debit card at almost all places. It seems easier to buy a movie ticket online than go to the booking counter. Maps are much better and Google does a fantastic job with directions and addresses. Connectivity is much better everywhere. Internet providers have relaxed the data caps presumably due to the competition.
Uber is not the same experience as you would think. According to an NDTV article, there are 450,000 Uber Cabs in 29 cities in India. An Uber driver estimated that there are 150,000 in Hyderabad during our conversation about the Uber driving experience.
Uber has proved that technology is changing behavior. Uber Pool lowers the barrier for usage. The navigation using Google Maps helps Uber drivers find shortcuts. Most drivers I used were balanced in their driving and very courteous. To achieve world-class stature Uber may have to take care of these points:
Training in GPS usage: The Uber App makes it very easy for you to set up your pickup location yet some drivers get confused. I have had drivers wait on the other side of the road and ask me to cross the road even when the app accurately set my location.
Communication: The concept of Uber’s technology usually makes it unnecessary for any communication between you and the driver. I was at the Uber Pickup point at the main entrance of the popular Forum Mall in Hyderabad. I spent 20 minutes trying to give the driver directions to where I was standing and ultimately had to cancel.
Expectations of Car types: When I picked a premier Uber I was surprised that it was not very well maintained Toyota Etios. I think an Uber Go usually will suffice for 2 people. On one ride the car’s a/c had broken down and we had to cancel the driver and choose another one. Training drivers to keep their car well maintained is very important.
I am enjoying the freedom to travel by Uber without the need to ask for a ride from friends and I can see that Uber has caught the wave and has completed almost 500 Million rides in India. One of my drivers had almost 6,000 rides in 2 years while other drivers I used had around 3000 rides in two years. Uber has changed the way people ride and also started providing employment. I hope they will invest more in training to make their services even better.
Shashi Bellamkonda is CMO of Surefire Local in Washington DC and teaches Digital Marketing as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He believes knowledge not shared is lost forever. Friends have called him “Social Media Swami”. His work has been written about in 17 leading Marketing books
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